Ayotte camp defends vote for GOP alternative ‘watch list’ gun sales ban
Republican senator cites need for ‘due process’ for those wrongly placed on watch lists
MANCHESTER, N.H. —U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte agrees with President Barack Obama on at least one aspect of fighting terrorism – that those on the nation’s “no fly” list should not be allowed to purchase firearms.
But Ayotte and her Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, disagree on how far the government should go to ban the sale of firearms to those on the much broader “terrorist watch list.”
Ayotte last week opposed an amendment put forward by Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein that would have allowed the government to ban the sale of firearms to anyone on the terrorist watch list. Ayotte opposed it, along with three Republican senators who are running for president – Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Ayotte’s office said Monday she opposed the Feinstein bill because it did not provide “due process” for those who feel that they are on wrongly on the list. Also, her office noted, the Feinstein bill would have gutted the underlying bill, which repealed several provisions of the Affordable Care Act and ended Medicaid expansion as of Jan. 1, 2018.
Ayotte instead joined with Republicans to vote in favor of an alternative bill put forward by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Cornyn’s bill would have allowed the attorney general to delay firearms sales to suspected terrorists for up to 72 hours while authorities pursued a court order to block the sales permanently.
According to Ayotte’s office, Cornyn’s bill also would have left the underlying bill Affordable Care Act provisions intact.
While Republicans say Feinstein’s bill would have provided no recourse or due process for those who feel they are wrongly on the list, Democrats disagree.
Feinstein has said that under her bill, those who are denied firearms “can take the Justice Department to court to overturn the decision.”
Where the burden of proof lies is the key difference between the two bills.
“Kelly obviously opposes terrorists having guns, but the Feinstein amendment was a political stunt that would have eliminated the underlying Obamacare repeal bill, blocked critical funding for substance abuse and mental health, and lacked due process protections for American citizens,” Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson said.
“She instead voted for a measure that allows the Department of Justice to prevent known or suspected terrorists on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms while ensuring due process for American citizens who believe they are wrongfully on the list. Similarly, she supports ensuring that those who are on the no fly List, a narrower subset of the terrorist watch list, cannot purchase a firearm, provided there are due process protections for Americans.”
But both bills failed, continuing the Washington gridlock on the gun issue even in the wake of the San Bernadino and Paris terrorist-related shootings.
On Sunday night, Obama said in his nationally televised speech:
“Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?”
After Obama’s speech, Ayotte tweeted, in apparent agreement, but with a key caveat:
“We need to come together now and pass law (to) stop those on no-fly list from buying guns, with due process for Americans who are wrongfully on list.”
Ayotte’s tweet, following her votes last week in favor of the Cornyn bill and against the Feinstein bill, prompted criticism from Hassan’s campaign and the state Democratic Party.
Hassan spokesman Aaron Jacobs said the governor “strongly supports” the Feinstein bill.
“Maggie Hassan believes it’s common sense that a person who is too much of a threat to fly on an airplane should not be permitted to purchase firearms or explosives,” he said “Kelly Ayotte’s vote to continue allowing known or suspected terrorists to purchase guns and explosives undermines public safety, and it is extremely troubling that Ayotte would put Washington special interests ahead of the safety and security of the people of New Hampshire.”
The Democratic Party questioned whether Ayotte was doing the bidding of the powerful National Rifle Association.
The party produced a 2010 NRA questionnaire in which the organization stated that it opposed “the use of secret lists to deny persons their Second Amendment rights” and asked candidates to state whether they agree or disagree with the NRA.
While Ayotte’s position on the specific question is unclear, the NHDP pointed out that Ayotte in 2010 received an “A” rating from the NRA.
State Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley asked if her vote against the Feinstein amendment “was the result of a secret 2010 campaign pledge to the NRA.”
“The legislation referenced in the NRA questionnaire is the same as what Feinstein proposed, which Kelly opposed,” Ayotte spokeswoman Johnson said. “Kelly believes that Americans’ constitutional rights should not be denied because of watch lists, which is why she voted to preserve due process protections for Americans who believe they are wrongfully on the terrorist watch list.”
Democratic Party spokeswoman Melissa Miller said the Cornyn bill, backed by Ayotte, “is a sham Republican alternative that is backed by the strongest supporters of the NRA in Congress, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and would not actually block those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons. Ayotte should be straightforward with Granite Staters about her true record of putting Washington special interests ahead of the safety of New Hampshire.”
Ayotte’s campaign responded by criticizing Hassan.
“When our country is facing serious and complex threats around the world, we need leaders who understand these challenges and can make informed decisions about national security. From Gov. Hassan’s refusal to call out radical Islamist terrorism to her complete lack of understanding about all the acts of war ISIS has carried out against our country, it’s clear that she is woefully ill-equipped to make decisions about keeping our country safe,” campaign spokeswoman Chloe Rockow said.
In 2014, the Washington Post, citing the National Counterterrorism Center, a government agency, reported that there were 1.1 million people, many with multiple spelling variations, in the classified database as of December 2013. It also reported there were 47,000 people on the no-fly list, 800 of whom were Americans.